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An air force medical staff prepares a dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the vaccination mega center in Athens, Monday, Feb. 15, 2021. The Promitheas center, which has started operating Monday, will host 96 vaccination points and when fully developed, an estimated of 150,000 vaccinations per month could be conducted.

OTTUMWA — The Wapello County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday spoke with Emergency Management Coordinator Tim Richmond about the county's rural vaccination program scheduled for next month.

Richmond and Wapello County Public Health Clinical Director Lynelle Diers unveiled the initiative with the media Friday as the county embarks on reaching county residents age 65 and over with COVID-19 vaccine.

The program involves city clerks taking calls from seniors to register them to receive the first dose of vaccine. Calls started Tuesday and will be taken until Feb. 26.

"Our plan is to take the vaccine to them, so we'll have remote sites in each community," Richmond said. "We have 6,000 or so that are 65 and over in the county, but about 1,800 in the rural areas. We don't want to miss anyone. The clerks are excited to be a part of it. They know it'll be a lot of work for a couple weeks, but that it'll be well worth it."

Richmond said one of the main reasons for the program was the lack of access — whether it's poor internet to get registered through one of the pharmacies or getting from place to place. The county has partnered with 10-15 Transit to offer complimentary rides to appointments if needed.

Richmond said that once the county knows how many rural residents have called ahead, the county can plan for allocation and then schedule a date, time and place for an appointment for the seniors.

"I know we've talked about maybe having a spot in the Eldon Community Center or the Agency fire station," Richmond said, though the planning process is still in the initial stages. "It's meticulous and time-consuming, and the reason it's necessary is the way the vaccine works. It's not like a flu shot, where you can just leave. Once we crack that vial, we have to use it all in six hours.

"There's 10 doses in a vial, so we want to make sure we have those groups of 10," he said. "And then they have to be monitored for 15 minutes to see if they have a reaction."

Board vice chair Jerry Parker commended Richmond for the idea of vaccinating rural residents.

"I think people now understand that we're in a battle, and this is a good idea," he said. "I think everyone is starting to realize that we're in a battle. We're looking at people's lives. So anything we can do to help the public, we want to do it."

Parker asked Richmond if there had been any discussions with the city of Ottumwa for a clinic inside city limits.

"We have spoken to the city about possibly doing a clinic in Ottumwa and what that would look like," Richmond said. "Indian Hills has come forward, Bridge View as well. We have options for locations if we do that, but manpower, like it is now, is going to be tough."

The conversation then turned to people who have received a first dose of the vaccine and are waiting for the second, which has been a common issue.

"So what about the people, and this would include those in town, that have already had their first shot. What do they have to do to make arrangements for the second shot?" Parker asked Richmond.

"Wherever they received their first shot should be calling them when it's time, four weeks later, or a little earlier, to schedule that second dose," Richmond said. "The booster doses are shipped by the state to those locations, and then those facilities will call that person.

"There were some learning curves with the Hy-Vee system, where they weren't able to set up or schedule the second dose online, and they can now. So those who did it before Feb. 10, they'll make making those phone calls to get that squared away."

Parker also said there has been uncertainty for those who have already had the virus and when they can get vaccinated. Richmond, however, said calling a primary care provider was probably the best option.

"I don't if there is anything hard and fast about that," he said. "We anticipated the CDC to come out and say immunity lasts a minimum of six months, and I don't know if they've come out and done that. It's kind of an evolving thing.

"What we have is a strong network of professionals in the county, both public and private," Richmond said. "And we're reaping the benefits of that right now."

— Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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